At peace with dif­fer­ent path

For­mer Rogers pitcher Mel­son changes ca­reers af­ter mi­nor league stint.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL BOYD

Nate Mel­son is still the only per­son from Rogers to sign a pro­fes­sional base­ball con­tract out of high school, but he’s left that part of his life in the rear-view mir­ror. And he has no re­grets. The 6-foot-6 right-han­der spurned the chance to pitch for Arkansas or LSU to sign with the Min­nesota Twins af­ter he was se­lected in the sixth round of the 1997 Ma­jor League Base­ball FirstYear Player Draft. But af­ter three-plus sea­sons in the mi­nor leagues, he walked away from base­ball and hasn’t looked back.

“It would have taken a level of pas­sion for play­ing the game as a pitcher that did not ex­ist within me to con­tinue go­ing in a di­rec­tion that was counter to the

clo­sure I sensed,” Mel­son said. “In short, the mi­nor-league ex­pe­ri­ence was for me; the pro­gres­sion through the sys­tem to the big leagues was not.”

For­mer Rogers High base­ball coach Tom Woodruff re­called the all-state pitcher’s com­pet­i­tive spirit and dev­as­tat­ing slider, a com­bi­na­tion that made him tough for the op­po­si­tion to han­dle.

“What made him such a joy, he was the ul­ti­mate team player,” Woodruff said “Nate was very soft spo­ken, but a leader by ex­am­ple and just a joy to be around. Some­times those can be few and far be­tween. But he sure loved to win and was a great com­peti­tor.”

Woodruff said Mel­son, who still ranks among the top three in Rogers his­tory for most strike­outs (sin­gle-sea­son and ca­reer), most wins (sin­gle-sea­son and ca­reer), told him he got a quick bap­tism to the dif­fer­ence be­tween high school and pro­fes­sional base­ball.

“He told me ‘I used to think we had long prac­tices’, but when he got to spring train­ing they got up early and have a sand­wich and some fruit and play ball all morn­ing,” Woodruff

said. “Then have some­thing else to eat and play all af­ter­noon. That’s when he knew it was a busi­ness.”

That wasn’t Mel­son’s only is­sue. He lost al­most 40 pounds in his first sea­son of pro ball and that came with a drop in ve­loc­ity.

“I was in a bad place phys­i­cally at the end of that first sea­son,” Mel­son said. “Los­ing 40 pounds in two and a half months, I felt like I’d tran­si­tioned to a cross coun­try team.

There was a time on the radar gun, I was at 79 mph. That’s a big drop from 92. I knew I had to get in the weight room and put on the cor­rect weight.”

Af­ter go­ing 0-4 with a 5.63 ERA in 38 1/3 in­nings his first sea­son, Mel­son en­joyed some suc­cess the next two sea­sons. He went 5-1 with 3.66 ERA as a starter in 1998, then 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA out of the bullpen in 1999.

But the 38-year-old, who now lives in Den­ver with his wife, Andee, and teaches ex­er­cise sci­ence at a char­ter school, said he still wasn’t the same pitcher that he was in high school.

“The slider never came back and I lost ve­loc­ity,” Mel­son said. “I be­came more of a sinker ball pitcher. Men­tally, I was sur­viv­ing, at the same time there was just this sense that this wasn’t go­ing to go as far as the big lights and big money.”

He had thoughts of quit­ting base­ball, but the Twins re­leased him in spring train­ing in 2000. Mel­son got an­other chance to hook on with the Kansas City Roy­als. How­ever, there was no doubt that his base­ball days were over af­ter about 30 days in Florida with the Roy­als, Mel­son said.

“I was pray­ing there would be clar­ity on what to do,” Mel­son said. “I was wa­ver­ing back and forth. This is ev­ery kid’s dream and I don’t want to throw that away. Then one night it be­came very clear to me one door was clos­ing. I didn’t even sleep that night. I got up to the club­house when the doors opened.

“There was peace about go­ing into that club­house and hang­ing up the glove. I told them my play­ing days were over and I haven’t looked back.”

He went on to fin­ish col­lege de­gree at Cen­tral Arkansas and is cur­rently pur­su­ing a master’s de­gree in pas­toral coun­sel­ing.

Mel­son just wants to share the story of his faith to pos­si­bly help oth­ers struggling with de­ci­sions in their life. But his mes­sage is to fol­low their faith.

“There’s so many ex­pec­ta­tions put on kids to­day,” Mel­son said. “Maybe they are ex­pected to fol­low a cul­tural norm. It’s hard to go against the grain a lit­tle bit.”

File photo

Rogers High’s Nate Mel­son de­liv­ers a pitch against Spring­dale dur­ing his se­nior sea­son in 1997. Mel­son was se­lected that sum­mer by the Min­nesota Twins in the sixth round of the Ma­jor League Base­ball First-Year Player Draft.

Cour­tesy Photo

Nate Mel­son with his wife, Andee Mel­son, at their home in Den­ver. Mel­son is a 1997 Rogers High grad­u­ate and played three sea­sons in the Min­nesota Twins or­ga­ni­za­tion. He now teaches high school ex­er­cise sci­ence and of­fi­ci­ates col­lege bas­ket­ball.

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